Fancy an ebike, but love your old pedal bicycle too much? The simpler way to go electric

Have you been toying with the idea of joining the ebike revolution, but somehow talked yourself out of it?

Perhaps in these straitened times you just can’t justify shelling out what is likely to be at least £1,500 to buy a new one. Or maybe you’ve got a perfectly good traditional bicycle that you just can’t bear to part with.

Well the good news is you could still join the ranks of ebikers without breaking the bank or trading in your old faithful mount.

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UK-based firm Swytch Technology is taking the electric bicycle market by storm with its ‘off-the-shelf’ conversion kits that can turn virtually any make or model of bike into an electric-powered version – and with a price tag of under £500.

The company was set up in 2017 by Oxford engineering graduates Oliver Montague and Dmitro Khroma. It was born after Mr Montague, who had been customising bikes for friends as a ‘hobby’ while working full time, started an online ebike-conversion business on the side and discovered there was a gap in the market for a single kit that would fit any model.

“I spent about a year trying to find that product for myself,” he said. “I thought it must exist somewhere. But I couldn’t find it, it didn’t exist.

“Then I had a kind of epiphany to invent it myself, using my background as a product engineer, and the rest is history. I made the prototype, made a crowd-funding video, set up the company with my two co-founders and here we are.”

Mr Montague said most of his customers chose Swytch because they wanted the benefits of electric power, but didn’t want to retire their existing cycle.

Swytch kits consist of three parts – a motor wheel to drive the bike, a power unit that fits on the handlebars and a battery which comes in two size options – and are simple to install

“Lots of people already have a bike they love,” he said. “They don’t want to buy an electric bike. They just want the bike they already have, the bike they love, to be electric – and Swytch makes that happen more affordably and more easily than any other product.”

Swytch kits come in three parts – a motor wheel to drive the bike, a power unit that fits on the handlebars and a battery that comes in two size options – and are simple to install.

“The rule is, if it has handlebars and a front wheel, we can electrify it,” he said. “For most bikes, it’s very much an out-of-the-box solution. You need to tell us your wheel size, you order it from us and we build it to your specification.”

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People are being encouraged to opt for public transport and ‘active travel’ such as walking and cycling in a bid to slash greenhouse gas emissions from transport and improve health.

Swytch Technology has created off-the-shelf conversion kits that can be fitted to virtually any bicycle to turn it into an ebike

But lots of folk are choosing self-propulsion over motorised transport because of the cost of commuting, research for Swytch has shown. Results suggest around one in four Scots are struggling to afford public transport to commute five days a week, with almost one in six saying they spend more than a fifth of their monthly wages on travel to and from work.

Of those polled, around one in three said they would make cycling their primary mode of travel if it were easier and faster.

The Swytch conversion kit comes with a huge financial benefit as well as a sustainability benefit, Mr Montague said, and one drives the other. “A fun term to use is that you’re upcycling the bike you already have,” he said.

“Instead of paying money to build a new bike and paying in carbon emissions to build that new bike, you’re saving both. By using the bike you already have, you save on average 200kg of carbon dioxide, so that obviously adds up very significantly when you look at the sheer volumes of electric bikes that are currently being made and sold. So this is a win-win.”

Oxford engineering graduates Dmitro Khroma and Oliver Montague are co-founders of Swytch Technology, which makes conversion kits to electrify your favourite bike

The firm is able to offer a trade discount direct to customers through what they call their crowd-shopping option. Buyers can pick up a kit from stock for around £1,000, but if they order in advance, pay up front and wait three months for delivery, the price tag is about half of that.

And for the rare times when a standard kit is not compatible with your bike, Swytch can build a bespoke option.

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Mr Montague lists other Swytch advantages – such as light weight and portable power packs.

“We sell the only pocket-sized electric bike battery in the world,” he said. “Most other electric bikes go for big heavy batteries, so the bike is then very heavy and not really very pleasant to ride without the electric power.

“What we’ve done is go in the other direction, to keep the system and the battery very small and very light, so the bike remains almost the same as it was before – around 1.5kg heavier compared to around 8kg heavier for a ready-made ebike.

“If you look at most electric bikes, when the battery runs out you don’t want to ride that thing any more. It’s too heavy, too cumbersome, you would absolutely not try to ride that with the battery off.

"If you woke up in the morning and saw that the battery had run out and you needed to get to work, you would not ride that without the battery. You would get a cab or take the train.

“The difference with a Swytch bike is that with the battery on it’s an electric bike, but with the battery off it’s still a bike you will happily ride by itself.

“It’s an assistance. You’re still pedalling, still getting exercise, but the battery lets you get up the hill or accelerate up the speed or get where you’re going in half the time.”

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